What is Tier Two and Academic Vocabulary?

17 Nov

What is Tier Two Vocabulary and why is it so important to focus on when teaching vocabulary?

The term Tier Two Vocabulary refers to one of the three “tiers” of vocabulary outlined by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan in their books “Bringing words to life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction” and “Creating robust vocabulary: Frequently asked questions and extended examples”. The tiers represent an excellent system for differentiating between different types of vocabulary.

The three tiers are:

  • Tier One: words used in everyday speech, usually learned in early grades, typically the least challenging for native speakers but will be more challenging for English language learner (e.g., small, mother, run)
  • Tier Two (also referred to as general academic words in the Common Core Standard): high-frequency, more likely to appear in written material than in everyday speech, words that appear across many different kinds of texts (e.g., informational, technical, and literary), and often represent subtle or precise ways to say simpler things (e.g., mention instead of say, consider instead of think)
  • Tier Three: low-frequency, specialized words that are specific to a domain (e.g., solar system, continent); more common in informational texts than in literature; often explicitly defined in the text or taught by the teacher who is focusing on that particular content

Tiers of Vocabulary Graphic - Tier Two

While all tiers are important, teaching Tier Two words can have a tremendous impact on comprehension because of their usefulness in multiple contexts and across a variety of content areas. If a student learns a Tier Two word that will be found across multiple content areas they are learning, this will have a large positive impact on their comprehension in all areas, whereas a Tier Three word specific to a content area would only be relevant to that area.

Teaching Tier Two vocabulary words can often slip through the cracks since they are not unique to a particular content area. They are typically not explicitly defined in the texts which they appear and are less likely to be defined by contextual cues in the text. This makes it even more difficult for students who may have weak vocabulary skills, speech and language delays, or are English language learners to learn these vital words.

There is no one list of Tier Two words to teach. Every curriculum unit will have different Tier Two words so one way to identify Tier Two words is to pull out the texts that will be used in a unit, make lists of vocabulary used in the texts and then sort the words into the different tiers. Pick the Tier Two words that seem most applicable to your child or group of children. There are also some pre-made lists and materials available if that is easier.

If you are interested in a pre-made Tier Two Vocabulary Curriculum Packet check out either my Tier Two Vocabulary Activity Pack for Second and Third Grade or my Tier Two Vocabulary Activity Pack for Fourth and Fifth Grade.

In a future blog post, I will focus on strategies for teaching the Tier Two vocabulary that you have identified!

Tier Two Vocabulary CurriculumTier Two Vocabulary for 4th and 5th Graders

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